Consider the source: A retweet is not news

Are you a discerning news consumer?

An interesting story this morning on National Public Radio about BuzzFeed investing in serious news coverage to compete with Twitter got me thinking about how reporters are underappreciated (about navel gazing, too, but let’s stick with news reporters right now). Reporters were underappreciated when I was one two decades ago, but as news organizations streamline, it’s getting worse.

BuzzFeed is apparently well-known for sowing social media websites with cat videos and Top 10 lists. It’s a secondary news source but the website is considering creating more original content by hiring its own reporters.

“We realized we had a huge hole in the content we were publishing,” said Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s CEO and founder. “We didn’t have news. We didn’t have reporters. We didn’t have any of the kinds of things that were starting to become increasingly shared across the social Web.”

Not sure what’s original news reporting and what’s secondary?

  • Your friend posts on Facebook about her child’s cute Christmas program. That’s primary reporting. She witnessed it, she wrote an opinion, she’s a primary source. This information is pretty reliable; the Christmas program probably was cute depending on the reliability of your friend, who you know well enough to judge.
  • Your friend shares a link on Facebook about today’s snowfall originally posted by her cousin in Minnesota. She didn’t witness the weather, but she’s sharing information she believes is from a trustworthy source. That’s secondary reporting. This information is fairly reliable, but may be skewed; maybe it’s only snowing in a small part of Minnesota or it may have snowed yesterday instead of today or maybe it’s a dusting instead of a deluge.
  • Your friend shares a link on Facebook with 10 uncredited reasons why the president is really a Muslim. This is not news or reporting. This is entertainment. Your friend didn’t talk to the president and didn’t check the source of the information. This information may have “gone viral” but that doesn’t make it credible.

More and more Americans are getting their news from social media and Comedy Central. It’s definitely entertaining, but its accuracy is questionable.

Most people don’t ever really think about the source of the information they’re consuming, and I think it’s disturbing.

The airheads on the Today Show yesterday were joking about the “trend watchers” who tell them what to talk about in the mornings. These trend watchers supposedly collect information from other news sources and social media to determine what’s “hot.”

But if all the information out there is secondary (or worse), it has no credibility at all.

The voracious 24-hour news cycle recycles news all day long. Adam Levine looks sexy on “The Voice,” People magazine names him “the sexiest man alive” (after evaluating all of mankind, presumably) and then the morning news shows report what People magazine says. This is not even new let alone news. It’s one reason to hate retweets on Twitter. Twitter has a lot of power to harness individual opinions of millions of people as evidenced in the Arab Spring, but contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think a retweet makes an original tweet better.

News reporters collect original information. They go to the court house, measure the snowfall, talk to witnesses. The average news reporter is paid $35,000 a year (this is secondary information I gleaned from indeed.com, but I was also once a daily newspaper reporter so I know it’s pretty accurate). In the NPR story this morning, hiring reporters is described as “not a cheap proposition.” But $35,000 a year is cheap for fresh, reliable content (being funny, too, is asking a lot).

We all can be better original sources. Report was you saw and what you think rather than simply sharing funny links. And when consuming news — whether it’s from “60 Minutes,” the Wall Street Journal, original sources on Twitter or from Facebook, the Today Show, Yahoo News and The Daily Show — think about who gathered the information and how they collected it before swallowing it whole.

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2 responses to “Consider the source: A retweet is not news

  1. I retweet. I know that when I do, it’s going to be second hand info. The same applies to the anchors on TV. For the most part, they get the news from the aforementioned reporters. Same difference to me. Good read. Blessings.

  2. One of my pet peeves is the newspaper story telling what MAY happen in the future or if some uncertain event should happen to occur (we will have a snowy winter IF the present trend of lots of precipitation continues for the rest of the month, which has just barely begun). That is NOT news; it is speculation. It is a waste of newsprint!

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